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New workplace code for sexual harassment under fire from top Tory MP

3 min read

Plans to draw up guidelines for employers on how they should clamp down on sexual harassment in the workplace have been criticised by a top MP.


Maria Miller, chair of the Commons Women and Equalities Committee (CWEC), said the proposals were "inadequate" and accused ministers of taking too long to respond to calls for action. 

The new Code of Practice will lay out bosses’ legal duties in clamping down on the problem and comes as part of a consultation following pressure from the committee.

Ministers will look at better regulating the use of non-disclosure agreements, changing the law to give interns and volunteers added protection and to gather data on the prevalence of workplace sexual harassment at least every three years.

A report by the CWEC earlier this year revealed that sexual comments, unwanted touching, groping and assault are still "widespread and commonplace" in British workplaces.

The committee called for a "mandatory duty" on companies to protect their staff after it criticised employers and regulators for "ignoring" their responsibilities.

Ms Miller criticised the time taken by the Government to respond to the report and said the proposals as they stood remained "inadequate".

“Forty percent of women say they have experienced unwanted sexual behaviour in the workplace,” she said.

“With this unacceptable statistic in mind, the Government should not have taken five months to respond.

“I am pleased that ministers have woken up and have agreed to our recommendation of a statutory code of practice.

“But they have missed the opportunity to place a greater onus on employers to protect workers from harassment and to increase sanctions for poor practice.

“Just keeping an eye on how employment tribunals respond to the new code is inadequate.”

'DISGUSTING BEHAVIOUR'

Victoria Atkins, the Minister for Women, said: “Sexual harassment at work is illegal, but sadly that disgusting behaviour is something that many women still experience today.

“We are taking action to make sure employers know what they have to do to protect their staff, and people know their rights at work and what action to take if they feel intimidated or humiliated.”

Business Minister Kelly Tolhurst, added: “It continues to disappoint me that in this day and age some women still face discrimination and harassment at work.

“One part of this is the minority of cases where non-disclosure agreements are used unethically, and employees may not be aware of their protections and rights. We will be consulting on these.”

'END TOXIC CULTURES'

TUC boss Frances O’Grady also argued the Government plans should go further.

“Sexual harassment has a huge impact on women’s careers and lives. So it’s disappointing that the Government is not making the major changes needed for the scale of the problem," she said.

“The law should be changed so that employers are responsible for preventing sexual harassment in workplaces.

“This would shift the burden of tackling sexual harassment away from the victims.

“And it would help end toxic workplace cultures that silence those who’ve been harassed."

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